Actualism, as I understand it, is the view according to which in determining what it is permissible to do at a time, t, one should consider only what would happen were one to do it and compare that with what would happen were one to do each of the other things one can do at t. Many object to Actualism (call this the Standard Objection) on the grounds that if it is true, then people are able to get out of present obligations in virtue of their potential future wrongdoing. That seems right to me. Actualists have a set of standard replies to this kind of argument, though. Mightn't there be a stronger objection to Actualism, however, one to which Actualists can't offer the same kind of replies that they do to the Standard Objection? I think there might. This objection is that Actualism seems to allow people to get out of having present moral obligations, not in virtue of their potential future wrongdoing, but, instead, in virtue of their potential future supererogatory behavior.
First I present the Standard Objection to Actualism. Consider:
Headache: On Monday, Patient has an excruciating headache. Though it will go away on its own in five hours, drug D will cure it immediately. However, as D is a very potent drug, if it is administered on Monday, drug E must be administered on Tuesday in order to counter its side effects, otherwise Patient will die. Doctor can administer D on Monday, but he knows that if he does so, even though he will be able to administer E on Tuesday, because of his own laziness then, he won’t. Doctor has two options on Monday: ADMINISTER D: administer drug D to Patient, and ~ADMINISTER D: not administer drug D to Patient
The Standard Objection goes as follows: In Headache, Actualism has it that it is permissible, even required, for Doctor to ~ADMINISTER D. But that's to allow someone to get out of having a moral obligation now just because were they to do it now, they'd later (entirely avoidably) act horribly wrongly then. That's absurd. Moral degenerateness can't let one off the moral hook.
Here I take it are the Standard Actualist replies:
Reply #1: Morality can let one "get out of" having a moral obligation in virtue of one's own potential future wrongdoing, but only in cases in which morality's requiring someone to do something would be to require them to act in a way such that were they to do so they'd overall act much worse than they would were they not do what morality requires (if Doctor is morally required to ADMINSTER D, then if he does ADMINISTER D, he'll act overall more morally wrongly than he will if he doesn't ADMINISTER D (if he does ~ADMINISTER D while being morally required to ADMINISTER D he will act wrongly, but not as wrongly as he will if he does ADMINISTER D, for letting Patient die on Tuesday, after doing ADMINISTER D on Monday, is much more morally wrong (given that he is obliged to ADMINISTER D on Monday) than not relieving Patient of the 5 hours of pain Doctor could by doing ADMINISTER D on Monday)). Morality's requiring that of someone would be perverse.
Reply #2: No morally conscientious person would ADMINISTER D in Headache. What no morally conscientious person would do in a situation is extensionally equivalent with what is morally required to do in that situation. Therefore, what is morally required in Headache is ~ADMINISTER D.
Now here's the supererogation-based argument against Actualism. Suppose, for the sake of argument (and what I'm inclined to believe is true), it is not morally required to save 6 people from drowning if in doing so one will lose a leg. Now consider:
Six Drowning: Bloggs stands at the edge of a pond in which six people are drowning. At t1, Bloggs can jump in and save four of the six. If, at t2, he remains in the pond, he will be able to save the remaining two as well; however, if he does stay in the pond and save the remaining two at t2 his leg will be bitten off by a crocodile swimming around in the pond. If Bloggs were to save the four at t1, though he would be able to climb out of the pond at t2 and neither save the remaining two nor lose his leg, because he would then be so committed to saving as many people as he can, he would, at t2 stay in and save the remaining two and lose his leg. If, at t1, Bloggs does not dive in and save the four, then he won’t at any later time be able to save any of the six. At t1, Bloggs’s options are: DIVE - dive in and save the four, and ~DIVE - not dive in and allow all six to drown. And Bloggs’s options, at t2, were he to DIVE at t1 are: STAY - save the remaining two and lose a leg, and EXIT - get out of the pond and allow the remaining two to drown and not lose a leg
Actualism seems to yield the result that it is permissible for Bloggs to do ~DIVE at t1 in Six Drowning. But that's absurd. There is no sense of 'permissible' according to which it is permissible for Bloggs not to save the 4 drowning people he could easily save at t1.
Note: with respect to this objection, neither of the Actualist's Reply#1 nor Reply#2 can get a foothold (with respect to Reply#2, in fact, given that no morally conscientious person would do ~DIVE at t1 in this case, it should follow from that line of reasoning that it is not permissible to do ~DIVE in this case).